This weekend I am pretty gee’d to be heading to the EPIC Pioneer mountain bike stage race in New Zealand. Apart from seeming to be a spectacular event this race marks a MTB racing milestone for myself. I have been tying numbers to the handlebars of my mountain bike since the year 2000, however this will be the first time I have been doing so in unison with a buddy in what is known as ‘pairs’ MTB racing. Pairs racing has been gaining traction in the mountain bike racing scene for a few years now with the world famous Cape Epic being the most high profile event utilising this style of racing.
The appeal of pairs racing initially confused me… I have done many road and MTB races in a team scenario where you are motivated to work for a common goal, usually propelling just 1 of the team members to a good position overall. However, in pairs racing you must ride side by side with your team mate for the entire event and cross the finish line more or less holding hands. Meaning unless both riders are very closely matched in fitness, the recipe of pairs racing I imagine would lead to immense frustration and annoyance for one if not both riders in the partnership.
From chatting with people involved in this week’s Pioneer and those who have completed many other pairs style races it appears that making the pairs arrangement work is where the enjoyment and satisfaction comes into play. The guys and gals pairing up for these races appear to make a project out of the event. Training rides together, planning together and race strategising together. Giving a sense of team work and camaraderie to a sport that is usually dominated by individual results and efforts. Many high profile athletes have made fine work of the pairs races, Aussie pro Dan McConnell and Kiwi pro Anton Cooper last year worked together to take out the Pioneer MTB title!
My partner for my first pairs race is someone who I have been turning pedals with for close to 16years. Mike Blewitt has likely done more MTB stage races than most riders on this planet. I am lucky to be pairing up with Mike whom has an intricate understanding of how these races play out and likely has a better knowledge of how I ride than I do myself. We are both pretty evenly matched physically at the moment, meaning cursing at each other should be kept to a minimum. Mike and I worked together in the Crocodile Trophy in 2011 and 2012, seeing and experiencing some pretty deep caves of pain in both editions of that race. Hopefully we can draw upon some of the lessons in suffering we learnt together there, particularly in 2011.
One of the key things I have learnt from most cycling experiences I think will be evident next week in the Pioneer. Mike and I will both be putting our all into the race and reporting on it, we will be exhausted, we will probably want to punch each other out at some point but we will be creating stories and memories that will last forever.. Struggle creates happiness, it usually comes in the retrospection of the experience rather than the experience itself.
I look forward to sitting down with Mike over a coffee when we are old & grey talking about our time racing across New Zealand in the Pioneer. These events must create happiness, after all Mike’s marriage to Imogen stemmed from a pairs race! Now that he has no romantic pursuits in our partnership we can focus 100% of the race at hand. Tough times but good times ahead. looking forward to reporting back on how my first ever ‘pairs’ MTB stage race goes at the Pioneer!